The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

What’s good, what’s bad, what’s ugly, when it comes to photography? Is there a way of telling – objectively – what is good and what is poo not? Ok, I have eventually progressed from the usual outcry “That’s ART??? *I* could have taken that picture!!” I do understand that it is not about the superficial aesthetics, the perfectly caught rule of thirds, the careful colour balancing or the attractive abstraction of an object. It is as much about the concept as well as the meaning and message. And the originality of the idea. 
I am just flabberghasted, again, at what I recently saw at a rather renowned gallery. The occasion was the annual exhibition of the Royal Hibernian Academy. In recent years, the annual RHA exhibition has been exhibiting an increasing amount of photography. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it ugly. In any case, an opportunity to gauge what the curating academicians find worthy of displaying. And what is awarded a prize – and therefore deemed art.
Let’s start with the good. Photographer Erin Quinn, for instance, was awarded the Curtin O’Donoghue Photography Prize, which carries a hefty € 5000 prize sum. And well deserved. I loved the exhibited image – head-and-shoulders of a woman in a bathtub, immersed in water and shot from straight above. Crystal-clear and crisp, beautiful soft colours, the composition deliberately off-centre. The accompanying artist’s statement, which can be read on Quinn’s website, explains more about the project and adds some depth to it, if you pardon the pun. But even without it, I would have agreed with the jury that this was photography worthy of a prize.
I don’t necessarily want to call the subject of my next review “bad”, suffice to say that it did little for me. Again, a photograph awarded a prestigious and generous prize, Dragana Jurisic received € 2,500 and the Curtin O’Donoghue Emerging Photographic Award for her image of a bend in a country road. My initial reaction was “that’s the sort of image that I take on holidays and then sort out into the bin”. Yes, I am ignorant and not intellectual enough to understand the beauty/message of the mundane. Maybe an artist’s statement would have cleared things up for me a bit? With a little research into Jurisic’s work, particularly her project “Seeing Things” does find my approval. Nonetheless I was intrigued to see that this particular photo (of which I have not found any trace online, so I cannot link to it here, my apologies) obviously wowed the judges. 
Let’s put the cloak of silence over the aforementioned “ugly” and move on to general deliberations. This year’s exhibition was certainly an eye-opener. And last but not least on the display formats of the photographic works shown. The bigger the print, the more impact. And what really works particularly well were those large scale photographs that were dibonded behind acrylic. The colours came out crystal clear, the images almost seemed enlarged by the acrylic cover. Surely not a cheap display option, but one that does add vava to the voom.
My conclusion from perusing the exhibition is – the sky’s the limit, people. The RHA annual exhibition is open for submissions from all visual artists. An entry fee of € 15 is charged per submission, three entries max. So, why not? Judging from what the jury has chosen to display, any subject matter and any technique has a chance of being deemed exhibitionable. And if it is my “bin-lining” images that might have a shot at being chosen, I will dig out my little time-passing exercise from yesterday’s car-journey from the computer’s trash can and slap it on a big piece of aluminium.

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